1949: Li Bai, PLA spy

Add comment May 7th, 2019 Headsman

Red spy Li Bai was executed in the Pudong district of Shanghai on this date in 1949.

Li Bai and his circuitry immortalized in stone in Shanghai’s Century Park. (cc) image from (checks notes) “Kgbkgbkgb”

A survivor of the Party’s epic Long March Li Bai (English Wikipedia entry | Chinese) was a Party-trained wireless operator who was detailed to Shanghai with the 1937 outbreak of the Sino-Japanese War.

He was fortunate to survive arrest by the Japanese while transmitting from occupied Shanghai in 1942. (The Japanese took him for a mere enthusiast.) Even more fortunate from his handlers’ standpoint was the interest his radio skills subsequently attracted from the nationalist Kuomintang, which recruited him into service that Li Bai was only too happy to accept.

For the next several years, he sent to the Communists voluminous inside information about the disposition of their opponents in the endgame stage of the Chinese Civil War. He was detected in the last days of 1948, sending to the People’s Liberation Army the troop dispositions that would enable it to overrun the capitals in the subsequent months. Not three weeks after Li Bai’s execution in Shanghai that city fell to the Communists; by year’s end, the Kuomintang had evacuated the mainland for its so-far permanent Formosan redoubt.

There’s a 1958 Chinese biopic about him, titled The Unfailing Radio Wave; the embed below is one of many subsequent readaptations:

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,China,Death Penalty,Espionage,Execution,History,Martyrs,Shot,Spies,Wartime Executions

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1975: Nine Iranian communists

Add comment April 18th, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1975,* Iran extrajudicially executed nine political prisoners.


This photo is a dramatic re-staging — evocative of a famous photo of executions in revolutionary Iran a few years later, or perhaps in the white-clad central prisoner’s raised arms, the Goya painting that forms this very blog‘s frontispiece. (Contrary to the reconstruction, the executioners had just one Uzi and took turns spraying it at their victims.) It’s part of a fascinating project by Azadeh Akhlaghi to portray 17 pivotal deaths in Iran’s history.
We took the prisoners to the high hills above Evin. They were blind-folded and their hands were tied. We got them off the minibus and had them sit on the ground. Then, [SAVAK agent Reza] Attarpour told them that, just as your friends have killed our comrades, we have decided to execute you — he was the brain behind those executions. Jazani and the others began protesting. I do not know whether it was Attarpour or Colonel Vaziri who first pulled out a machine gun and started shooting them. I do not remember whether I was the 4th or 5th person to whom they gave the machine gun. I had never done that before. At the end, Sa’di Jalil Esfahani [another SAVAK agent, known as Babak] shot them in their heads [to make sure that they were dead].

Account of a former Savak agent, Bahman Naderipour, who was executed after the Iranian Revolution. The New York Times report of Naderipour’s public trial has him recounting:

“We took them out of the jail and put them in a minibus and drove them to the hills. We had only one submachine gun, an Uzi, among us, so we took turns shooting them … we didn’t give them a chance to make a last declaration. We blindfolded them and handcuffed them and then shot them. I think was the fourth to shoot. We took the bodies back to the prison. and we had the newspapers print that they were killed during a jailbreak. We had the coroner confirm this version.”

The victims were Ahmad Jalil-Afshar, Mohammad Choupanzadeh, Bijan Jazani, Mash’oof (Saeed) Kalantari (Jazani’s maternal uncle), Aziz Sarmadi, Abbas Sourki, Hassan Zia Zarifi, Mostafa Javan Khoshdel and Kazem Zolanvar.\
The last two named were members of the People’s Mujahedin of Iran, the still-extant MEK back when it was still a standard Marxist revolutionary movement and not a cult.

The first seven named were members of the Organization of Iranian People’s Fedai Guerrillas, a proscribed Communist guerrilla organization.

One of those seven, Bijan Jazani, was a co-founder of that organ and one of the greatest Communist intellectuals Iran ever produced. (For a flavor of his thought kick back with the Jazani collection in Capitalism and Revolution in Iran.) With him was Hassan Zia-Zarifi, long a collaborator in leftist circles.

The proceedings that had landed them in prison in the first place had already put them in the global spotlight especially given the horrific torture applied to the defendants. (Among other things, these seven were adopted by Amnesty International as watchlist political prisoners.) International pressure had staved off juridical death sentences … so the matter was handled extra-juridically instead, with the standard insulting cover story, “shot trying to escape.”

Iran reaped a considerable diplomatic fallout from these murders. Its embassies around the world were rocked by protests of emigres and human rights campaigners in the ensuing weeks; that May, a team of communist assassins gunned down two American Air Force officers stationed in Tehran to train the Shah’s security forces — claiming responsibility “in retaliation for the murder of nine of our members.” (UPI dispatch from Boston (US) Globe, May 21, 1975)

There’s a lengthy lecture on Jazani et al by Communist historian Doug Greene.

* Some sources give April 19 instead. I have not been able to resolve the discrepancy to my satisfaction.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Borderline "Executions",Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Guerrillas,History,Intellectuals,Iran,Martyrs,Mass Executions,No Formal Charge,Power,Revolutionaries,Shot,Summary Executions,Terrorists,Torture

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1939: Aleksei Gastev, Soviet scientific manager

Add comment April 15th, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1939, the Old Bolshevik Aleksei Gastev, a theorist of scientific management for the Soviet state, was shot in Stalin’s purges.

Expelled in his youth from tsarist teaching ranks due to his radicalism, Gastev (English Wikipedia entry | Russian) traced his revolutionary bona fides back to the 1905 Revolution (he fought in it) and even before (as an ally and correspondent of Lenin).

With the advent of the latter’s revolution, Gastev founded the Central Institute of Labor (CIT), and CIT’s training firm Ustanovka (“setup” or “installation”) — organs dedicated, respectively, to the study of work, and to the promulgation of the new science of the workplace throughout the Soviet economy.

It was a socialist perspective on Taylorism, that practice of scientific management that was also transforming capitalist production; like Taylor, Gastev aimed to systematize the routine operations on the factory floor, to learn the most efficient way to wield a hammer or a shovel and expel from the labor force the indulgence of artisanal idiosyncracy and rule-of-thumb work; more broadly, Gastev aimed to revolutionize the way work was conceptualized by Soviet people, bending the mental and behavioral orientation of workers to optimize them for the demands of industrial production.

“Even when we exit the gates of the factory, still we carry the factory,” he wrote, positing a question that demanded “a cultural ustanovka.”

Fear of this very thing haunted Europe in this moment and has never left her nightmares in the century since. The CIT juxtaposed curiously with the almost simultaneous publication of some of the seminal dystopian mechanization literature — like Yevgeny Zamyatin‘s We (1921), in which the rational ordering of society annihilates freedom, and Karel Capek‘s R.U.R. (1920), the play that borrowed a Czech term for unfree work to give the world’s lexicon that wonderful word “robot”. Unsettling to many, this twining of man and machine was understood by Gastev as an emancipatory vista.

Gastev’s ideal worker is neither the oxen brute of Taylor’s dreams, nor the lifeless robot of Capek’s nightmare. He is rather an active, sentient, and creative part of the productive process who behaves like a seasoned, conscious, and well-trained warrior. Armed with sharpness of vision, acute hearing, attentiveness to environment and detail, precision and even grace of movement, and “scoutlike” inquisitiveness about the relationship and locations of things and peoples, he enters the factory as though it were a battle-field with commander-like briskness, regimental routine, and a martial strut. For him, no romance, no heroic individual deeds — only a relentless battle waged scientifically for production.

But the robot is present in Gastev’s vision nonetheless: it is the machine itself, not the man. For Gastev, the machine also takes on a life that gives it not only the power to produce and enrich, but also to train, to inspire, to organize. His wildest visions of 1918-19 are previsions of Capek and Zamyatin and celebrations of a coming event often warned about in science fiction: the takeover by machines. Gastev could never quite decide whether the machine was to be the master or the servant of man. Since he continued to use the machine metaphor, he eventually opened himself to attack by those who opposed his policies on other grounds. But Gastevism differed from administrative utopia — the heavy-handed martialing and mobilization of raw labor in a palpably unequal hierarchy. Gastev’s man-machine meant a symbiosis of the two, interacting in a way never wholly understood even by himself. It clearly contained fearful elements. But Gastev himself, by all accounts, was not a cold-hearted machine-like fanatic but a warm and engaging person. He did not fear the power of the machine. He feared backwardness, passivity, and sloth. (Source)


Dziga Vertov‘s 1929 classic Man with a Movie Camera captures the excitement of industrialization and industrial workers.

On the side — to stave off the sloth — Gastev kept up an artistic output of his own as a poet of the Proletarian Culture movement; this exemplar (Order No. 2 from a work called “Ten Orders”) comes to us via Wonderlands of the Avant-Garde: Technology and the Arts in Russia of the 1920s, which notes that “what is produced is never specified; the emphasis rather is on the establishment of a certain pace of work, as if machines manufacture a new time — the rhythm of the new life.”

Chronometer, report to duty.
To the machines.
Rise.
Pause.
A charge of attention.
Supply.
Switch on.
Self-propulsion.
Stop.

The chronometer stopped for Gastev with his fall in late 1938, and he proceeded thence to the familiar fate of Stalin’s prey amongst the intelligentsia. As he associates with the positive, modernizing, and utopian strain of the Soviet experiment but not its failures or horrors his name is not blackened to posterity and the present-day Russian Federation’s Ministry of Economic Development sponsors an “A.K. Gastev Cup” award to honor advances in production.

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1958: Istvan Angyal, Hungarian revolutionary

Add comment December 1st, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1958, Angyal Istvan was hanged for the failed 1956 Hungarian revolution.

A working-class Jew who survived Auschwitz as a boy — his mother and sister were not so fortunate — Angyal was a convinced leftist who became disaffected with the Hungarian regime not because of its Communism but because of its failure to realize the democratic and egalitarian aspirations of that ideology.

A fixture on the youthful intellectual ferment in Budapest in the early 1950s, he was one of the leaders of street protests against Soviet domination during the doomed Hungarian Revolution of 1956, even conferring personally with Prime Minister Imre Nagy during its last days. In a gesture that not all of his comrades would have supprted, he set out the hammer and sickle along with the Hungarian national flag on November 7, the very eve of the revolution’s defeat, arguing to Soviet troops that they were fighting against true communism.

He’s commemorated today at an Angyal István Park in Budapest; it’s evidently “a modern social place with free Internet” and a nifty paper plane art installation.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Hanged,History,Hungary,Jews,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Revolutionaries,Treason

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1937: Vincenzo Baccala

Add comment November 29th, 2018 Headsman

Italian Communist Vincenzo Baccala was executed on this date in 1937 … but not by the fascists.

The blackshirted turn of his country in the 1920s had driven Vincenzo into emigre exile, pursued by an in absentia prison sentence for “subversive propaganda tending to insurrection and incitement of class hatred.” He went first in Paris and then in 1931 to the USSR.

Although present in the fortress of Communism at the Party’s direction, and eventually an outright Soviet citizen, Baccala came into trouble after criticizing Stalin in 1933 and had to leave his family in Odessa as he struggled to find work. Come the height of the purges in the later 1930s, he was predictably denounced.

Baccala’s wife Pia Piccioni swallowed a bitter draught of her own; unable to see her husband or find support amid Stalin’s purges, she returned to her native country, finding little comfort either in Mussolini‘s Italy (for obvious reasons) or in postwar Italy (where red comrades shied from traducing the USSR). She wrote a book about her own and Baccala’s experiences, Compagno Silenzio: Una vedova italiana del gulag racconta.

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1989: Rohana Wijeweera

Add comment November 13th, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1989, Sri Lankan Marxist revolutionary Rohana Wijeweera was — by at least some accounts, properly disputed by the authorities — summarily executed

Moscow-educated at Lumumba University, Wijeweera showed his leftist bona fides by forming a splinter party breaking with the Ceylon Communist Party.

Wijeweera wasn’t there to do the People’s Front of Judea thing; his still-extant Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) party aimed straight at revolution.

An abortive 1971 rising landed Wijeweera a long prison sentence, but he was amnestied in time to run a distant third in Sri Lanka’s 1982 presidential election.

The JVP — which increasingly also verged towards Sinhalese nationalism — then proceeded foment a second and much more vigorous rebellion that ran from 1987 to 1989 which was suppressed in the usual ways. There’d be no prison amnesty for Rohana Wijeweera this time.

Officially, Wijeweera’s death in captivity is attributed to crossfire during an ambush shootout with his partisans. Sure. Here’s what Sri Lankan General (and later M.P.) Sarath Munasinghe had to say about Wijeweera’s end:

The time was 11.30pm [on November 12, 1989]. We reached the premises of HQ ‘Operation Combine’. There were many officers of other services too. We were conducted to the conference table where Rohana Wijeweera was seated. I was given a chair just opposite Wijeweera across the table. I commenced having a conversation with him. Mr Ernie Wijesuriya, director, National Intelligence Bureau, his deputy and some others were present. I spoke to Rohana Wijeweera at length.

Whenever I questioned him in English, he answered in Sinhalese. In fact, he asked me whether I knew the Russian language. I replied in the negative. Rohana Wijeweera told me that his second language was Russian. He told me all about his personal life, initially at Bandarawela and later at Ulapane in Kandy. He was reluctant to talk about the activities of the JVP.

While this discussion was going on, the ‘Operation Combine’ commander was with his deputy in the adjoining room, which was his office. Just past midnight, the deputy Defense Minister General Ranjan Wijeratne walked in and sat at the head of the conference table. Gen Wijeratne asked few questions, but Rohana Wijeweera did not respond. Gen. Wijeratne joined the ‘Operation Combine’ commander in his office. We continued with our conversation. We had many cups of plain tea (dark tea), while talking. I made a request to Rohana Wijeweera to advise his membership to refrain from violence. He agreed after persuasion. So we managed to record his words and also his picture in still camera.

After some time, a well-known Superintendent of Police arrived at the HQ Operation Combine. As the police officer walked in, he held Rohana Wijeweera’s hair from the rear and gave two taps on Wijeweera’s cheek. Wijeweera looked back, and having identified the officer said, ‘I knew it had to be a person like you’. The police officer joined the Minister and Operation Combined Commander. We continued with our conversation. Wijeweera related a few interesting stories. One day, a group of JVP activists had visited the residence of Nimal Kirthisri Attanayake [Rohana Wijeweera] at Ulapane. They demanded money for their movement. Wijeweera responded quickly by giving Rs 100. The youngsters did not have a clue about their leader. Wijeweera was full of smiles when he divulged this story.

The time was around 3.45am on 13 November 1989. I was informed to conclude the questioning and to take Rohana Wijeweera downstairs. Together we walked downstairs and were close to each other. Wijeweera held my hand and said, ‘I am very happy I met you even at the last moment. I may not live any longer. Please convey my message to my wife’. Rohana Wijeweera’s message contained five important points. They were all very personal matters concerning his family.

Moments later, Wijeweera was blindfolded and helped into the rear seat of a green Pajero. Two people sat on either side of Wijeweera. There were others at the rear of the vehicle. Just then a senior police officer arrived near the vehicle. I politely rejected his invitation to join them. The Pajero took off. I joined Col Lionel Balagalle standing near the main entrance of the Operation Combine HQ building. We were having a brief chat when a senior officer came downstairs to get into his car. We greeted him. He was in a very good mood. But the atmosphere changed all of a sudden. A military police officer appeared in front of us. The senior officer blasted him for not accompanying Wijeweera and party. The military officer dashed towards his vehicle and sped away. The senior officer departed. We also went home thinking of a good sleep.

Late in the morning I was busy getting Wijeweera’s photograph printed. No one would recognise Wijeweera without his beard. So I had to seek help and add the beard to Wijeweera’s photograph. It was done very well. Late in the afternoon there was a press conference at the Joint Operation Command. Minister Ranjan Wijeratne briefed the press. ‘Wijeweera and HB Herath [another JVP leader] had been taken to a house just outside Colombo, where the JVP had hidden part of their treasure. While the search was in progress, Herath pulled out a pistol and shot Wijeweera dead’. The minister went on to give more details. Subsequent to the killing of Wijeweera, violence by the JVP ceased gradually and there was peace in the country, except in the north and east. [i.e., the zone of the entirely separate Tamil Tigers insurgency -ed.]

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Borderline "Executions",Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Guerrillas,History,No Formal Charge,Politicians,Power,Revolutionaries,Shot,Soldiers,Sri Lanka,Summary Executions,Terrorists,Wartime Executions

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1944: Werner Seelenbinder, communist grappler

Add comment October 24th, 2018 Headsman

Left-wing athlete Werner Seelenbinder was executed by the Third Reich on this date in 1944.

An Olympic Greco-Roman wrestler, Seelenbinder’s plan to scandalize patriots by refusing to make the Nazi salute from the podium at the 1936 Berlin games was scratched when he came in fourth in the event.

Nevertheless, Seelenbinder (English Wikipedia entry | German) had already by then given more material aid to Hitler’s foes by using his sportsman’s travel itinerary as cover to act the courier for the banned Communist party.

Arrested in 1942 during the smash-up of the Robert Uhrig resistance ring, Seelenbinder was tortured horrifically in prison but died with courage — as he had pledged in a last letter to his father.

The time has now come for me to say goodbye. In the time of my imprisonment I must have gone through every type of torture a man can possibly endure. Ill health and physical and mental agony, I have been spared nothing. I would have liked to have experienced the delights and comforts of life, which I now appreciate twice as much, with you all, with my friends and fellow sportsmen, after the war. The times I had with you were great, and I lived on them during my incarceration, and wished back that wonderful time. Sadly fate has now decided differently, after a long time of suffering. But I know that I have found a place in all your hearts and in the hearts of many sports followers, a place where I will always hold my ground. This knowledge makes me proud and strong and will not let me be weak in my last moments.

As a visible public person who died in resistance to fascism, Seelenbinder made for ready national-icon material in postwar Germany … but because of his red affiliations he was honored in this fashion mostly in East Germany. (Indeed, even a sports club that had been named for him weeks after the war’s end, in the American-occupied sector, stripped his name right off a few years later to keep with the times. The stadium was reverted to its Seelenbinder christening in 2004.)


East Berlin’s Werner-Seelenbinder-Halle was demolished in 1993 and replaced by the Velodrom.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Athletes,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Entertainers,Execution,Germany,History,Martyrs,Revolutionaries,Treason,Wartime Executions

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1973: Jose Gregorio Liendo, “Comandante Pepe”

Add comment October 3rd, 2018 Headsman

Comandante Pepe was shot on this date in 1973.

Jose Gregorio Liendo (English Wikipedia entry | Spanish), a onetime agronomy student, had quit his studies years before to join a Marxist guerrilla organization.

From the gorgeous inaccessibility of Chile’s mountainous border with Argentina, the Revolutionary Left Movement (MIR) launched pinprick-level attacks on the state in the late 1960s and took land reform by the barrel of the gun by seizing farms around Panguipulli for the use of workers.

The quixotic former student turned campesino revolutionary, Liendo became one of MIR’s most visible public faces under the nom de guerre of “Comandante Pepe”, even settling down in the mountains and marrying a local.

In the early 1970s this movement enjoyed the simpatico of the socialist Salvador Allende government. (One of MIR’s co-founders was President Allende’s nephew.)

That moment ended abruptly with the September 11, 1973 coup replacing a socialist administration with a far-right military dictatorship — and the latter immediately began slaughtering leftists.

The MIRistas themselves managed a few small attacks on the Pinochet regime in the weeks following the coup but were speedily overwhelmed. Captured after an attack on a carabineros station, “Pepe” with eleven comrades — a mixture of students and lumber workers — were condemned to immediate execution by a drumhead military tribunal in Valdivia.

“A week later, on October 9, the army executed seventeen more persons in the area,” according to Mark Ensalaco. “They were loggers, farmers, and peasant activists. The following day Helicopter Squadron 3 arrested sixteen employees of the same lumber and forestry complex where Comandante Pepe had worked and agitated. The prisoners were taken to a bridge over the Tolen River and executed.”

There’s a recent historical novel about this legendary character, Lo Llamaban Comandante Pepe (They Called Him Comandante Pepe).

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1972: Helenira Rezende, Brazil guerrilla

Add comment September 29th, 2018 Headsman

Brazilian Communist guerrilla Helenira Rezende was summarily executed in the field on this date in 1972.

“Preta” to her comrades, she was a silver-tongued student activist at the University of Sao Paulo who had been clapped in prison by the dictatorship.

Rezende was amnestied in December 1968 and went underground, eventually joining the guerrilla movement in the Araguaia River basin.

The 80 or so guerrillas operating in the eastern Amazon aspired to run that Che Guevara rural-insurgency playbook, as it announced in a May 1972 manifesto. It didn’t work: the Brazilian military successfully suppressed the revolution in a series of campaigns over the next two-plus years. Only about 20 of the guerrillas survived.

One of those lucky ones, Angelo Arroyo,* gave an account of her death:

On September 29, there was an ambush that resulted in the death of Helenira Resende. She, along with another companion, was on guard at a high point in the woods. On that occasion, troops came along the road. As they found the passage dangerous, they sent scouts to explore the side of the road, precisely where Helenira and the other companion were. The latter, when he saw the soldiers, fired the machine gun, which did not work. He ran and Helenira did not realize what was happening. When she saw the soldiers were already in front of her. Helenira fired a 16-round shotgun. The other soldier gave a blast of machine-gun fire that struck her. Injured, she pulled out the revolver and shot the soldier, who must have been hit. She was arrested and tortured to death.

Her bayoneted body was secretly buried by sympathetic campesinos and has never been recovered; officially, she’s still considered a fugitive. Her unit adopted the tributary name Destacamento Helenira Rezende; more recently, the University of Sao Paulo’s postgraduate association has been named in her honor.

* He wasn’t lucky for long: Arroyo was assassinated with a fellow Communist leader by military officials in Sao Paulo in 1976.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Borderline "Executions",Brazil,Execution,Guerrillas,History,No Formal Charge,Put to the Sword,Revolutionaries,Shot,Soldiers,Summary Executions,Torture,Wartime Executions,Women

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1943: Mao Zemin, brother of Mao Zedong

Add comment September 27th, 2018 Headsman

Mao Zemin, younger brother of Communist leader Mao Zedong, was executed on this date in 1943.

A party cadre since 1921, the non-chairman Mao served a variety of economic leadership posts for the Red Army.

As of early 1941, Mao (English Wikipedia entry | the far more voluminous Chinese was detailed to the western province of Xinjiang, where the warlord Sheng Shicai maintained friendly relations with the neighboring Soviet Union.

To Mao’s grief, this “King of Xinjiang” saw in the unfolding global war an opportunity to realign.

After the German invasion of the USSR in 1941, Sheng boldly flipped his affiliation from Moscow to the nationalist Kuomintang government with which he had theretofore maintained only the frostiest of relations. Crackdowns on Communists ensued too, and both Mao Zemin and Chen Tanqiu were both arrested, tortured, and executed as a result.

Needless to say this KMT-Xinjiang axis did not hold the Celestial Empire’s destiny and the whole decision to fade Moscow looks pretty dumb in retrospect. Sheng, however, surely did not much regret the gambit since he was able to follow the nationalists to Taiwan and spend a comfortable retirement writing memoirs like Sinkiang: Pawn or Pivot?

Mao’s son Mao Yuanxin, a still-living pensioner as of this writing, was a political figure in the 1970s who was jailed post-Gang of Four.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,China,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Martyrs,Notably Survived By,Revolutionaries,Shot,Torture,Treason,Wartime Executions

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